Through Shadows and Images...

A Blog by Tom Gourlay

Tag: Jesus Christ

3 December – First Sunday of Advent (Year B)

Gospel Mark 13:33-37

‘Stay awake!’

As a father of two children currently under the age of two, I, unfortunately, have very little difficulty in meeting this request of Jesus. Staying awake simply comes with the territory – despite my best efforts to catch up on some sleep!

Jesus’ words in this passage seem to be a bit ominous though – there a is a threatening tone to it that puts us on edge.

Surely, this is a text that not to be read fundamentally, as if Jesus is prohibiting his followers from the human necessity of sleep. The metaphor calls us to an alertness. But what are we to be alert to?

In a lot of literature the Second Coming of Christ is imagined as a triumphant, and even violent event, as though Christ will come again trying to catch us by surprise in the act of wrongdoing so that he can punish us and satisfy some kind of sadistic lust. This imagery though does not adequately align with the vast majority of biblical literature.

Jesus calls us to an alertness to the mystery of Salvation. He calls us to remain interested in what first captivated us – the event of the Incarnation, God come in human flesh.

It is so easy to neglect the wonder of the faith – to allow the trappings of the faith to usurp the place that the person of Jesus should hold in our hearts. We can find ourselves simply going through the motions of saying our prayers, attending the Mass and the Sacraments, and even engaging in acts of service all the while forgetting that presence that first captured our attention.

This is why the popes of recent decades have encouraged us to always return to the contemplation of the face of Christ, to start afresh from Christ.

We must remain awake to the memory of Christ alive, not a dead memory of someone who was once with us and who is no longer, but a presence who remains with us, even “to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20).

 

Point to Ponder

“I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20). This assurance, dear brothers and sisters, has accompanied the Church for two thousand years… From it we must gain new impetus in Christian living, making it the force which inspires our journey of faith. Conscious of the Risen Lord’s presence among us, we ask ourselves today the same question put to Peter in Jerusalem immediately after his Pentecost speech: “What must we do?” (Acts 2:37).

We put the question with trusting optimism, but without underestimating the problems we face. We are certainly not seduced by the naive expectation that, faced with the great challenges of our time, we shall find some magic formula. No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person, and the assurance which he gives us: I am with you!

It is not therefore a matter of inventing a “new programme”. The programme already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever. Ultimately, it has its centre in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until its fulfilment in the heavenly Jerusalem. This is a programme which does not change with shifts of times and cultures, even though it takes account of time and culture for the sake of true dialogue and effective communication. This programme for all times is our programme for the Third Millennium.

St John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte

28 May – Sunday of the Ascension of Our Lord (Year A)

Gospel Matthew 28:16-20

“When they saw him they fell down before him, though some hesitated.”

After having been with Jesus for three years or so as he carried out his public ministry, after witnessing his arrest and gruesome execution, and then having experienced him resurrected, the Disciples, bound for Galilee saw Jesus, alive and in the flesh, and, while most fell down before him (presumably in worship and adoration) we read that ‘some hesitated.’

This is extraordinary inasmuch as it gives a real emphasis to the reality of the events it reports. The disciples were real guys who, despite all that they had witnessed were even now somewhat reluctant. At least a couple hesitate in bowing down before the Lord Jesus.

Witnessing the bloody death of Jesus, and both the reports of, and actual appearances of the resurrected Lord, these disciples were perhaps supernaturally fatigued. They had seen the depths of human depravity, and the glories of the Risen Lord, and now they hesitate. One can almost feel the weary confusion” “What am I to make of all this?”

Then Jesus speaks. He gives them authority, and bids them to go out and proclaim the Good News of his death and resurrection, and to baptise all in the name of the Triune God. Then he assures them of his ongoing presence, until the end of time.

Jesus puts the responsibility of his saving mission into the hands of this rag-tag group of blokes, some of whom we are told, hesitate.

This should, in fact, be an incredible encouragement for us who strive, and so often fail to live in an awareness of the reality of the ongoing presence of the Lord. Jesus, aware of our own hesitancy as he was of some of his original disciples still commissions us to be the bearers of his salvation to the world around us.

Let us pray that we would remain aware of the presence of the Risen Christ and His Holy Spirit amongst us.

Food for thought

‘The Christian message announces the permanence of the fact of Christ, as a continuous happening – not something that happened once – but as something that still happens.’

  • Luigi Giussani, Why the Church?, 203

30 April – Third Sunday of Easter (Year A)

Gospel Luke 24:13-36

“You foolish men!”

Sometimes Jesus can be pretty harsh.

Two of his closest mates, the names of which we are not given, decide to head off. They’ve witnessed what was a particularly gory public execution of their friend and leader – one whom they were sure was special, perhaps evening the messiah.

The confusion would have been terrible. What do you do when the one for whom you have left everything has suddenly died – and died in a way reserved for the worst of criminals? Peter and the others, we are told, had gone fishing – attempting to return to life prior to that earth-shattering event which was the person of Jesus.

Like Pete, and the lads who joined him fishing, these two sought to return to life ‘as normal’. Thinking that they could resume what they had lived prior to this encounter.

Jesus, though hidden to them at this time, was right it seems to point out how foolish this idea was? How could they not have seen and believed the message of the prophets literally enfleshed and lived out in the person of Jesus?

What strikes me in reading this passage, is that after his miraculous appearance to them at the breaking of the bread, these two come to their senses realising that, in fact, while he had spoken to them, their hearts had ‘burned within them.’ The words of Jesus as he walked with them prior to his unveiling himself at the breaking of the bread were rekindling the fire of divine love which they had experienced and were so reluctantly turning away from. The prospect of returning to life as it was lived prior to this encounter is somehow ridiculous. How can I possibly resume a life without Christ after having encountered him in such a profound way?

Our encounter today is with Christ bodily present in His Church that group of believers who are his ongoing and continuing presence here on earth. In His Church, and through the Sacraments, we encounter Christ, and the truth of the Gospel causes our hearts to burn.

16April – Easter Sunday of the Resurrection (Year A)

Gospel Jn 20:1-9

“They ran together …”

Eugène Burnand, The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Sepulchre on Easter Morning, 1898.

Eugène Burnand, The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Sepulchre on Easter Morning, 1898

 

Peter and John had witnessed some pretty incredible things in the three or so years that preceded the events of the past few days. This Jesus, that man from Nazareth, had burst into their lives and set them on a new and different path – something exciting had taken hold of them and had deepened their awareness of reality. But the events of the past few days had seen things come crashing down around them. What they knew to be an unshakable foundation had seemingly been rocked. The events of Good Friday would have rattled them to the very core of their being – had they lost all hope?

We can imagine the scene.

It is Sunday. One can imagine the crisp morning air. The grass covered in dew. Motivation levels low. Confusion reigning. An overwhelming sense of deep, deep sorrow. And then, this message from their dear friend, Mary of Magdala. Immediately they set out.

They run. Desperate to see what had unfolded, they couldn’t get there fast enough. Dare they hold out hope for something miraculous?

They run together, but John being younger and obviously fitter got there ahead of Peter. He reached the tomb, but there was given pause – perhaps acknowledging the sacredness of this moment – of this place. But Peter, true to form, reaches the tomb and barrels forward, entering the sepulchre. Seeing evidence of the resurrection.

He, like us, struggled to believe the testimony given to him by Mary. He was not content to live as though the event of Jesus could be merely a memory. He had to experience the Risen Christ for himself. He had to be ‘seized anew’ by this most ‘overwhelming fact of human history’ (PMO, 4).

His honest intensity at which they set out to verify the fact of the resurrection (captured beautifully by Burnand) needs to be our own.

9 April – Passion Sunday of Lent (Year A)

Gospel Matthew 21:1-11

“This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee”

The crowds who accompanied Jesus as he entered Jerusalem shouted, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’

It would have caused quite a stir. Here comes this bloke, riding into town on a borrowed beast, the requisitioning of which he did so invoking a right reserved to kings, accompanied by crowds shouting, and declaring otherwise preposterous things about him.

“When he entered Jerusalem,” we are told, “all the city was stirred, saying, ‘Who is this?’” The people of Jerusalem, were rightly shaken. And the appearance of Jesus should shake us too.

This is a perennial question, asked by all of us. It is, in fact, a question that demands an answer of us. There is no possibility of neutrality here. His is a presence that demands of us a response.

The week ahead is a unique one in the life of Jesus. His teachings become increasingly apocalyptic and mysterious, he violently cleanses the Temple, causing a tremendous stir. By the end of the week, he has polarised the city, and has few people left to vouch for him. This ‘prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee’ has not found much by way of welcome. In fact, he has so angered the hierarchy, and so disrupted the life of the city that everyone wants him to be gone.

We are often wont to ponder how would this play out in our own day – wondering if Jesus had just been lucky enough to be born into a modern liberal society, would he have avoided this rather ignominious end?

The answer to this can be found in our own response to Jesus – Who is he? What role do I afford him in my own life?

2 April – Fifth Sunday of Lent (Year A)

Gospel John 11:1-45

‘By now he will smell…’

Lazarus was a good mate of Jesus. In fact, it seems that they had known each other for some time and were close. Jesus wept when he heard the news of his death.

There is much to consider in the passage before us. The depth of Jesus’ sorrow is expressed in sighs and in weeping. It was obviously a difficult thing for him, as it is for us, to experience the death of a loved one.

But it is in the midst of this suffering, of his own sorrow, that Jesus reveals the glory of God, by raising his friend from the dead. The reality of his activity here is brought home by the inclusion of Martha’s concern – ‘by now he will smell!’ Surely, she is grieving, and she just wants her deceased brother to rest peacefully. Uncovering his bloated, stinking carcass would only exacerbate their grief.

What follows in this story is fantastic, in the sense that it really is the stuff of fantasy. Jesus raises his old mate, from the dead.

The difficult thing here though, is that this is not fantasy. Jesus really did this.

It would be easy to try and brush this off – Jesus wept, shared the pain of the others, and told them, ‘Lazarus will always be with us… It’s like he is alive again… He lives on in our hearts.’ We have all been to funerals where this kind of fluff has been shovelled at us. In the face of suffering we often do not know how to act. We do not want to acknowledge it, and so paper over it.

If he were just to paper over the pain and sorrow of Lazarus’ loved ones, then this would simply be a weak, fluffy, fairy dust story, that doesn’t hit the ground. If that were the case, then there would be no reason to re-tell the story 2000 years later.

However, there is perhaps nothing more real than that little detail included here, that quite simply, he stank. When he emerged for the tomb, Lazarus was still covered in the burial garments and bandages. He was dead. And now he is not.

Those who witnessed this were no doubt astonished, and we are told that they came to believe in him. Faced with that kind of evidence, it seems to me that only the hardest of hearts would not.

And here we are with the testimony of those who witnessed this miraculous act…

13 November – Our Lord JESUS CHRIST, KING of the UNIVERSE

Gospel Luke 23:35-43

‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’

The claim that Jesus is God, that He is King of the Universe are often looked upon by modern ‘enlightened’ minds as the quaint beliefs of the feeble minded.

While the believer today may feel a certain pressure to offer empirical or philosophical proofs that God exists and that Jesus is God, such an endeavour to formulate and offer said proofs more often than not fall incredibly short of convincing anyone.

The fact of his crucifixion, and the scorn hurled at him from those who did the deed seems to point to a certain powerlessness on the part of Jesus.

Taking up this question in his book on Jesus, Benedict XVI asks, capturing the sentiment of modern man who often struggles to believe: “Why, indeed, did you not forcefully resist your enemies who brought You to the cross? […] Why did You not show them with incontrovertible power that you are the Living One, the Lord of life and death? Why did You reveal yourself only to a small flock of disciples, upon whose testimony we must now rely? The question applies not only to the Resurrection, but to the whole manner of God’s revelation in the world. Why only to Abraham and not to the mighty of the world? Why only to Israel and not irrefutably to all the peoples of the earth?” (p. 276).

Despite our frustrations, it seems that this is the paradoxical style of God.

‘Is not this the truly divine way? Not to overwhelm with external power, but to give freedom, to offer and elicit love. And if we really think about it, is it not what seems so small that is truly great?’ (ibid, pp. 276-277).

The year of Mercy, which is now at its end, was of tremendous pedagogical value inasmuch as it brought us into this method of God – we see that the gentle way, the quiet invitation, has greater power to open hearts than the forceful proof of God’s omnipotence. It is in his weakness on the Cross that Jesus demonstrates the true power of His love.

Point to Ponder

 

Many nations’ rulers you profess

And in a public worship bless;

May Teachers, Judges, you revere,

In Arts and Laws may this appear.

 

Let every royal standard shine

In homage to your power divine;

Beneath your gentle rule subdue

The homes of all, their countries, too.

 

All glory be, O Lord, to you,

All earhthly powers you subdue;

With Father and the Spirit be

All glory yours eternally

 

(Te saeculroum in principem, from First Vespers on the on the Feast of Christ the King)

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